The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 6, 2003


Concert Review Arcturus Chamber ensemble performs in Carlisle

This past Friday evening the Arcturus Chamber Ensemble performed in a wonderful and diverse concert at the First Religious Society. The program featured works by Johannes Brahms, Arnold Schoenberg and David Salvage.

The Arcturus Chamber Ensemble is the creation of Sarah Darling of West Street. An accomplished viola player, Sarah wanted her many talented musician friends to get to know each other, and to play together. Three times a year, those who are able gather together for a week, growing musically and in friendship. The ensemble consists of young musicians Sarah has known from the times she attended Harvard and the Julliard School of Music, from music festivals, and in Europe, where she is now studying. As she told us, "We all enjoy seeing how much we continue to grow, rather than just remembering how we were when we first knew each other." There is a pool of about 30 friends, many of whom have played in Carlisle concerts over the last three years.

The ensemble's name comes from the bright star, Arcturus, found in the northern sky near the Great and Little Bear constellations. Sarah views her collection of performing friends as a constellation, and thought the star's name would be an appropriate title for the group.

This was the first time we had the chance to hear the ensemble. The concert lived up to every splendid thing we had heard about previous performances. First, these young musicians are very accomplished on their instruments. Even more importantly, they have worked to shape and communicate every phrase and the intensity of each instrument's musical line, blending or creating tension with the other voices. Like fine actors they led the listeners through three challenging and exciting chamber works.

David Salvage is a member of Arcturus and a composer. His String Quartet in three movements is his fourth major work written in the last few years. The centerpiece of his tightly constructed piece is the second movement, "Hummingbirds." To obtain the realism of the birds each instrument attacks its first note and then continues with fast tremolos, quivering and fluttering on one note. The listeners were startled and could feel the various birds darting in and out. The tensions and vibrations felt in our bodies by these repetitions was powerful. The third movement brought back some of the rhythmic patterns of the first movement and reminded us again of the birds.

This technique of using tremolos for musical intensity also occurs in the Brahms Clarinet Trio, opus 114. About five years before he died, Brahms befriended a great clarinetist, Richard Mühlfeld. In listening to him play, Brahms had an epiphany of the instrument itself. The qualities and sensuality of the low, middle and high registers reached him as no instrument other than the piano. The result was a piano, cello and clarinet trio where the piano was not always dominant. The cello and clarinet, beautifully played by Josh Packard and Alice Bradley respectively, were each dominant at different times, individually, in unison, and echoing one another. Brahms loved to use scales and arpeggios (broken chords) moving through those three registers, each with its own characteristic sound: rich reediness, the gentle paleness and, above that, the velvety center tones and the soft to angry crying high tones. Dimitri Dover, the pianist, played with clarity and intensity. He never let the piece feel rushed even in its brilliant passages. The final movement, which ends on softer and softer arpeggios, left the audience in silence, until suddenly there was a burst of applause.

After intermission a sextet of two violins, two violas and two cellos played the opus 4, Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) by Arnold Schoenberg. He was 25 at the time he wrote this, his first important work. Still influenced by Wagner and Brahms, it is full of rich harmonies, chromatics, and a full range of emotions. It is a musical setting of a poem by Richard Dehmel, which describes a moonlight walk in "a bare, cold grove" by a man and a woman. She confesses to him that the child she carries is not his. But the man forgives, wanting the child "as if it were mine" and transforms her guilt as they walk through "the lofty bright night." One could enjoy the music without the poem. However, the context helps to understand the tensions, the rhythms and the harmonies. In fact, Schoenberg set the music in many melodic passages to follow precisely the syllables of the German verse. His musical markings reflect the emotions as the walk progresses. Each of the six string parts play major "solos" while the rest weave the textured musical fabric. Often we had to watch the fingers to distinguish which violin or cello or viola was playing the "melody." The ensemble and the intensity and clarity with which they performed this very powerful piece were very satisfying. At the end of the piece the audience waited even longer before applauding, not wanting to interrupt the spell of the music so well played by the musicians.

The afterglow of the concert was felt at the ensuing reception. It provided an opportunity for members of the audience and the musicians to share their thoughts about the music and the excellent performances of these young players. In addition to those already mentioned the other members of Arcturus who played so beautifully on Friday are violinists Miki Cloud and Benjamin Roos, violist Kathryn Sievers, and cellists Clara Lee and Ken Ferry.

The concert was a benefit for the Children With AIDS Department at the Boston Medical Center.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito